Parallax Chambers brings together a suite of new works that reveal Tsui’s explorations in serial, sequential and interlaced imagery. The project conflates the anarchic universe of martial arts fiction (wuxia*), with the ungoverned community that formed the Kowloon Walled City. A tenement situated in a liminal zone between the borders of China and Hong Kong, Kowloon Walled City also recalls the self-organized societies that were instrumental to the founding of North America’s “chinatowns”.
This new animation refines and tinkers further with Tsui’s production methods, which integrate ink drawing, animation and computer programming. The result is a live-rendering media work that outputs a randomly sequenced narrative without beginning or end. By ceding the narrative agency to artificial intelligence, the work formally raises questions about order, and how harmony can emerge from seeming chaos; much like the referenced anarchic societies, which organically developed codes of conduct to establish social order. Loops and samples form an underlying motif throughout the exhibition.
All the works in Parallax Chambers stem from processes developed in Tsui’s ambitious exhibition Retainers of Anarchy – a 25-meter long media work that was first exhibited at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2017 and has toured to the Ottawa Art Gallery, OCAT Xi’an, China, with an upcoming presentation at the Ringling Museum in the United States.
In contrast to the sweeping landscape of this previous work, Parallax Chambers focuses on a cycle of intimate rooms, recalling both the confined units prevalent in densifying urban centers and the hermetic chambers depicted in wuxia for the purpose of internal training and meditation.
The scenes depicted in these works invoke a compaction of martial arts references with the current political turmoil in Hong Kong. Like many in the diaspora, Tsui wrestles with a pervasive anxiety around a creeping suppression of voice and thought. The spectre of geopolitical tentacles weighs heavily on his psyche, further agitating a practice that has already demonstrated a compulsion towards confronting superstition, paranoia and inherited traumas.
Tsui’s experiments in translating animations into material form have lead to the interlaced format of lenticular printing, used in two of the exhibition’s four lightbox works. Here, the technique of lenticular printing adapts Tsui’s exercises in sequential imagery into physical format, bringing motion and fluctuating image to a form that initially seems flat and static. The illuminated quality of these works recalls the projected light of Retainers of Anarchy, and the television glow produced by the original source media.
Complementing the animation and other lightboxes, an ink work on goat parchment entitled The peel, the bark, the tome (White Camel Mountain) depicts characters from one martial arts clan from Jin Yong’s Condor Trilogy. It is the first piece in an ongoing drawing series that classifies diverse ecologies as an instrument to counter homogenizing forces and their programs of cultural erasure. Executed with calligraphic brushes in acrylic ink, the work is comprised of an accumulation of contour lines and strokes, creating a graphic perversion of Chinese calligraphy. By eschewing gradation and composing images exclusively of solid lines, the work also recalls paper-cutting or vector art, with its binary structure of positive and negative space. The animal hide ground for the drawing refers to the materiality of a coveted martial arts manual (Nine Yin Manual), fabled to have been written on vellum with excerpts etched onto human skin.
Howie Tsui would like to thank:
Remy Siu for programming, sound design and music
Anna Firth, Chhaya Naran, Kodai Yanagawa and Roxanne Zagar for animation
Paul Paroczai for additional sound design
Wade Thomas for exhibition design and installation technician
Martin Kemble and Art Labor Gallery for lenticular printing
Additional thanks to Brendan Tang, Henry Tsang, and ABC Photo
Howie Tsui would also like to thank the Canada Council for the Arts for their generous support.